Nox Owens had survived the war. He had gone from spy in Adarlan to Lord Darrow’s trusted messenger to traitor to the aforementioned lord and was now back to being a messenger.
He had met his queen so long ago in Rifthold- in their enemy’s palace- and yet had not met her. Had not met her as Aelin. So he took it upon himself to do just that.
But he was Nox Owens and she was Celaena Sardothien. Or, she had been anyway. So he could not do this in a normal fashion. No, it had to be dramatic.
Which was how he found himself outside the throne room of the palace at Orynth. He could hear many voices. According to the guards, most of Terrasen’s allies had left, but the few that remained were in there eating dinner with his queen. He hoped it was those from Adarlan. Chaol and Dorian might recognize him and stop Aelin’s husband- or any of her court-from hurting him.
Yes, Nox Owens had survived the war, but was probably going to die now. It would be worth it to see the look on Aelin’s face- on all of their faces- when he made his dramatic entrance. Probably.
A room full of the deadliest people in Erilea looked up at him as he entered. They were sat on the floor, as any tables large enough for all of them were surely still in pieces. Chaol Westfall and his wife. King Dorian. General Aedion Ashryver and a ghost leopard- the shifter. Lady Elide Lochan of Perranth. And of course, Queen Aelin with her three Fae warriors.
Nox put his hands on his knees and began panting, as if he’d sprinted all the way here.
“I have an urgent message.” Their faces tightened with worry. “For Miss Lillian Gordania.”
Aelin didn’t have to look at her friends to know that the mischievous glint in Dorian and Chaol’s eyes matched the one in Nox’s. And in her own. She also didn’t need to look to know that Rowan, Fenrys, and Lorcan were unsubtly reaching for their knives.
Aedion knew Nox was a messenger here, so he was more relaxed. “Nox, there is no Lillian-“
“Well, we should at least hear the man out. He ran all this way.” Dorian’s smirk wobbled in and out, threatening to reveal the joke.
“And what if it’s important?” Chaol added. “If someone thinks that this Lillian Gordania is here, there might be a reason.”
Rowan’s arm tightened around her shoulders, resting over her tattooed wings. “Who is it from? If just anyone is sending messages to the palace...”
Aelin looked Nox dead in the eye and motioned for him to continue. He met her stare and smiled.
“It’s from her father, a merchant from Bellhaven.”
Aelin hoped that the fact that this fake woman was from Fenharrow wouldn’t upset Yrene. Chaol had likely weighed that thought as well. If he thought it would, Nox would be dead where he stood, so she let him proceed.
“Mister Gordania is very worried for his daughter.” Nox’s knowing smirk grew with every word. “A year ago, she leaves for Rifthold, unannounced, and now she turns up in Orynth after all of this fighting. He just wants to see to it that she’s alright.”
Most of the group looked confused, if not annoyed- Lorcan- or a bit sad at the story of Nox’s fake message.
Dorian and Chaol were, on the other hand, amused. The former spoke first. “Lillian Gordania. Why does that name sound familiar?”
Chaol pretended to ponder it, then made it overexaggeratedly clear that he had figured it out. “She was the jewel theif who tried to rob you blind. Who you then fell head over heels for.”
“I seem to recall,” mused Dorian, “that you were also enamoured with her.”
Aelin was glad the three of them had come far enough that they could joke over what used to be such a sore subject.
“Well,” she drawled, “she was strikingly beautiful. Or so I was told.”
“Yes, Majesty. You almost hold a candle to her looks.” Nox bowed deeply after giving her such a ‘compliment.’
As Rowan snarled, she hoped Nox realized what a dangerous game he was playing. His skin paling revealed that he did, and was likely figuring the odds of his escaping this room alive.
She decided to throw him a lifeline and try to ease the tension. Or maybe make things worse. She would enjoy it either way.
“Beautiful, sure. But what kind of a name is Lillian Gordania? Who would make someone else go by such a name?”
Dorian grumbled something she chose not to hear.
“Almost on par with Celaena Sardothien when it comes to pseudonyms, isn’t it?” Nox was walking on ice so thin, it wasn’t even frozen.
At mention of who she used to be, Rowan prowled over to Nox, backing him against a wall. As far as Rowan knew, Nox had no business knowing that Aelin had been Celaena, and Nox knowing that made him a threat. She had definitely made it worse.
Rowan was deadly quiet speaking to Nox. No one could hear what was being said, but they all understood the general sentiment of the threats.
“Cel- Aelin? Would you mind calling off your scary guard dog? As much as I love this palace, I’m not such a fan of its walls that I want to be permanently squashed against one.” Nox’s voice was steady, likely from a lifetime of training, but his eyes threatened to pop out of their sockets.
She would love to see how this played out, especially with Fenrys and Lorcan getting to their feet. A glance at Chaol and Dorian showed they were curious as well. But while Nox had survived competitors like Cain and Grave, it was doubtful he’d be able to survive a Fae warrior defending his mate.
Exasperated, yet fondly, she called to them. “Come sit down, both of you.”
Nox didn’t move from the wall until Rowan had taken his place beside Aelin again. As he sat, she stage whispered: “And he’s not that scary. If you scratch him behind the ears, he’ll roll right over.”
The male in question glared at her.
“I killed a man with a table leg, Aelin.”
Oh, so her saying he wasn’t scary was the hill he was choosing to die on. Hopefully he was upset enough to add it to his tally of things he was going to get payback for later.
“Yes, and I’m sure it was terrifying. But I stand by my point.” And to prove it, she scratched the back of his head, toying with the hair at the nape of his neck. She was going to have to remember that for later, because she could have spent all day watching the blush creep up his face. “Nox, this is my court, you probably know who most of them are. Everyone else, this is Nox Owens. He was in the King’s Champion competition with me, and is apparently a spy for Terrasen.”
A flash of light and Lysandra was back in her human skin, wrapping herself in the cloak she had been laying on. “Aelin, I have no idea how you thought we could pull off the ruse of me being you when so many people from your past keep popping up.”
Nox raised a glass of wine he he’d poured himself. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lady not-Aelin.”
Once Nox had been properly acquainted with Aelin’s court, he fit right in with their antics. Or perhaps, mused Chaol, his antics were similar enough to hers that no one was surprised by them. He remembered the scrappy spy from the competition in Rifthold, but never would have imagined who he would end up being.
He never would have imagined who Aelin would become back then either. Or who he would be, for that matter. Hand to the King of Adarlan. Husband. Father.
Yrene had retired back to their room, tired from the ongoing healing, the pregnancy, both. He’d tried to go with her, but she insisted that he stay.
“I’m not so pregnant that I can’t make it back to our rooms by myself,” she had said. “And even if I were, that wouldn’t change anything.”
Elide went with her, shooting him a small smile, as if she could hear the worries rattling around his head. Of course, where Elide went, Lorcan followed, so he had departed as well.
Lysandra had left shortly after finishing dinner to go to Evangeline. Aedion, like Lorcan, had dutifully followed; the epitome of what Aelin called a “territorial Fae bastard.”
Fenrys had taken back his wolf form, half dozing at his queen’s feet, but still paying attention. Because who would want to miss Nox Owens and Aelin Galathynius in all of their snarky glory?
“So, Majesty,” the spy drawled. “I seem to recall your general sentiments about Chaol’s training, but I never caught how you felt about your husband’s.”
Chaol had forgotten what an insufferable shitstarter Nox was. No wonder he and Aelin had been such fast friends.
Aelin seemed to not want to answer as much as he wanted to hear what she’d say. Rowan looked curious as well, although for a much different reason.
“Nox, are you trying to get me to be sleeping on the couch tonight?” She tilted her chin into what Chaol fondly though of as her oh, this is happening face.
Rowan whispered something into her neck that had Aelin biting her lip. From the pained look on Fenrys’s wolfly features, Chaol was glad he didn’t have Fae hearing.
“Nox has a point, Aelin.” Dorian gestured between the men in question. “The way you curse about Rowan now is strikingly similar to how you used to gripe about Chaol.”
Aelin spoke in a breath of laughter. “You are not helping. And you,” she pointed to Nox, “remind me why I kept saving your sorry ass during the competition?”
“Oh, that wonderful competition,” Aelin sighed. “Does anyone else miss the days when that was our biggest worry?”
Dorian and Chaol raised their hands, horrific memories no doubt dancing behind their eyes.
Rowan pulled her closer and dropped a kiss to her forehead. “You’re safe now, Fireheart. I promise nothing is going to hurt you now.”
She let herself soak in the security of his touch, just as he swung her around into his lap, chuckling.
“However, you still haven’t answered the question.”
Aelin sighed, leaning back against him dramatically.
“Well, between the hunting for supernatural creatures that we didn’t understand yet, all of the running I had to do for training, and the,” she gave a pointed look, “other activities, it’s a surprisingly even race.”
A flash of light and Fenrys was back in his Fae form. “Really, Aelin, him?”
“Only on every horizontal surface in the caste,” Dorian mumbled into his wine.
Chaol reddened instantly. “It was not every horizontal surface!”
“No,” Aelin mused. “There were plenty of vertical broom closets as well.”
Everyone in the room devolved to varying states of shock.
Rowan loved his wife and her lack of shame. So much that it was all he growled into her ear as he scooped her up and carried her back to their room.
“Well, I suppose we’ll be calling it a night, then,” she called over his shoulder. “Lovely to see you again, Nox.”
The aforementioned spy sketched a bow. “Off to find a broom closet, your Majesty?”
“What do I need a broom closet for? I’m the damn Queen of Terrasen.”
Nox hoped that every time he encountered his queen would be this exciting. Lillian Gordania, Aelin Galathynius, or anything in between, she had his loyalty. And, of course, a shared sense of mischief.